Friday, April 13, 2012

Don't Finagle Conversations

Right before the tornados hit the Dallas area last week my connecting flight left DFW Airport for Nashville, Tennessee. Soon, the winds favorably brought me within the embrace of friends’ arms, John and Beverly. We first met in 2006, and through the convenience of Email, cell phones, Facebook, and blog posts, we’ve kept in touch and become close friends. I spent three nights and days with them while Bev and I worked on a year’s worth of daily devotionals she wrote for cancer patients and family members, and caregivers.

            Later, I listened as Beverly talked with her doctor and described our conversations as “soul searching.” Some of them were. They had to be. You see, Beverly is at the tail end of eight years of fighting abdominal cancer. She’s endured five surgeries and additional stents and ports implanted. After undergoing three FDA approved chemo treatments and five experimental trials, she hopes her efforts will assist in curing her cancer and aid others.

            Without giving you intimate details, allow me to say that Beverly remains one of the brightest, strongest, and most positive women I know. Her humility and reliance on God astounds me. Her honest airing of her feelings refresh me. A female version of Job, even miserable in her skin, she refuses to say God has cursed her. She continually praises him.

            She has lost her hair numerous times, along with her fingernails, eyebrows, and eyelashes. With poise, she has endured indignities for the sake of future cancer patients -- indeed her willingness may save you or someone you love.

            I gave you the background of our friendship and her struggles to assist in introducing Jeremy Taylor’s (1613-1667) sixth rule for living humbly. In the language of his day, “Never speak anything directly tending to thy praise or glory; that is, with the purpose to be commended.”

            Through Beverly, I know exactly what Mr. Taylor wrote about in rule number six. Oftentimes, an opportunity might arise in conversation to spotlight some good deed she has done. However, Beverly needs no attention – no public applause. The heavenly Father knows all her charitable thoughts and deeds, and he generously rewards all who seek his praise alone. She remains content with God’s praise alone.

            How would it feel to go one week without compliments from others? Would you starve for affirmation? Why isn’t it enough for God alone to know about the times we succeed in charity? Yikes, I shudder to think how often I’ve thrown sparkle dust in a conversation about myself, so others would ask about my current works. In “Soul Work: Confessions of a Part-Time Monk,” Professor Randy Harris writes about power play in language. He says that postmodern theologians and philosophers believe that almost anything we say is an attempt at power play, to get the upper hand. He says he will not go that far in his assessment of our conversations. However, he does believe this, “We manipulate people and conversations to come out in a way that is agreeable to us.” Some examples are times that people ask us difficult questions: we answer how we want to, and avoid a direct answer or indictment of ourselves.

            Harris goes on to say, “We manipulate conversations to stroke our egos.” Have you ever tried to move a conversation into an area of your expertise? Alternatively, another example, if you receive a compliment on organizational skills, do you point to a messy area showing the messy flipside of your life? Then the complimentary person feels compelled to build you up by lavishing more kudos on your managerial skills? When receiving a compliment, it’s best to simply say, “Thank you,” and let the compliment float away. At home and in business, it’s sometimes necessary to communicate what we do, but always check your motives, don’t let praise from others be the design of your heart. It’s no wonder that so many Bible scriptures advise “silence.” Jesus reminds those who had ulterior motives, “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Matthew 12:34).

            My friend Beverly writes about her cancer journey at “John’s Wife,” (Blogspot), not for compliments or applause, instead she writes to help others grace their own turbulent storms. This week pay attention to your conversations. Listen a lot, that alone guarantees less language faux pas.

            Hunger for Humility (15): “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak” (James 1:19).

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